Revolutions that the Railway Made
The Historic " Goat House." Headquarters of " The Jolly Beggars "
But for the successive invasions of the railway, Saltcoats might have worn until to-day some considerable part of its garment of picturesque antiquity, particularly within that which has formed for a century and a-half the centrifugal orbit of its life.
Just as the forces of civilisation broke through the croft of Grisel How to make an inclined road to Dalry, so the iron way crossed the northern boundary of another croft beside it to connect the town with the iron industries of Ardeer and the transplanted shipping activity of Ardrossan. The first station, which lay near the rocks at the East end, was removed to the Drakemyre on 1st July, 1858-the operations begun in 1857 by Black, the first contractor, having been continued by Edward Miller. When the railway came through the town, gates were put on the crossings at Raise Street, Jack’s Road, and Ardrossan Road, with a man at each - the Company by the Act of 1840 being hound for these. There was some difficulty in dissociating from the minds of children that these little men with the little red and green flags and the little watch-houses, were got up for their amusement. Jack Good had such a sentry box at "Jack’s Road," which the bairns very naturally thought was his own particular road; and they would come to see him making little wooden spoons with his knife out of apple-tree wood. These were indeed very simple days, for remember we are speaking of over sixty years ago, and children were children then. The planting of a station and goods sidings opposite the end of Green Street did not make any appreciable alteration on the appearance of the Drakemyre. Indeed, the presence of a railway system brought its swarm of industrial limpets to cling to its loading banks, and dull platforms and duller walls; for assuredly the Station House was the most inartistic structure that had ever been thrown up to tantalise the artistic sense of the inhabitants. Railway Companies are ever obdurate to public opinion or feeling, and so, although driving a line through the centre of the town had not entirely the effect of closing the gates of its northern and southern divisions, that was the very thing which was destined to happen. Accordingly in 1882, when the station was to be thrown further back towards Kyleshill, and Raise Street was to be closed, the proposal was met with sturdy opposition. The population of Saltcoats at that time was nearly 5100. Of this number 904 had their habitation in the higher land of Raise Street. The proposed operations of the Company were distinctly unfavourable to the high-landers; but, after much wrangling and the offer of two new streets, the public were advised to give way, and a great transformation took place. The Drakemyre was swept of its ancient glories, and a long red wall drawn over the former perspective of " thatches." The old and interesting triangle that had once lain at the foot of the Flush was cleared away, turning Countess Street into a large open square. This ground that had been two little "nine-yards" in the days of old, and alongside which the stream had flowed to the village green, disappeared as if it had never existed. Away went Mrs Reid’s possession and the possession of the M‘Alisters, famed bakers of their time. The surroundings were cleared, and a new road connected with Kyleshill. The first Bank in Saltcoats (when the late W. B. Orr became agent for the Ayrshire Bank) was abandoned, and its portico and windows have since remained boarded up. The old line of the Yard, which had belonged to an Irvine sailor, " Orr’s Nine Yard," going back to Bradshaw Roading, was framed and shaped to suit the official rules of uniformity, and Dan M‘Alister’s house was submerged beneath the Station buildings.
The Ardrossan Parish commenced at the old Countess Street Well, which stood at the foot of the lane. With the houses between the well and the railway taken down, there was no longer need for such an ornament, and it disappeared. Across the railway other wonderful alterations took place. Near the foot of Raise Street had stood the house long occupied by the Victualling Society - the forerunner of the Co-operative Stores. This house was built by David Craig, a flesher, and his shop was kept by "Peggy Mackie," who was famed for making oat-cakes. It disappeared to make way for the other new street. " Tam M‘Whirter’s gates " vanished ; and to-day, thanks to an unstudied effort of the authorities, one can trace, in the shape of the causeway stones, the exact line along which was " the goat " or ditch that ran through the town, dividing the parishes of Stevenston and Ardrossan. Workmen tore down the property of William Wilson, the carrier, a large building erected by John Cunningham in earlier days, and which, with its capacious stables and houses, manifested the extent of the old pre-railway carrying industry. Into these sheds went all the merchandise, for there were no goods depots and no parcel offices. Wilson’s byre stood at the corner of Raise Street and the Goat Lane ; the garden entered from the lane, being stocked with fruit trees and bushes. William Wilson’s house of course touched part of the ground through which the Earl of Eglinton had carried his original scheme of continuation long before. The original possessor seems to have been a salt officer of old Saltcoats named James Miller.
The widening of the line cleared away the old paths so I close to the railway that in walking along one could have touched the passing trains. On the opposite side was curious old ground, dating from 1788, sold to the Railway Company in 1867. It lay to the north-west of James Barber’s yard, where there was the back wall of an old malt kiln connected with an ancient brewery, of the beginning of which there is no definite trace. Beside it, almost under the shadow of the Western Bank, lay a house which sometimes went under the name of the "Goat House," but was not that celebrated institution. It was the house of Francie Wood, a contractor, in the busier days before the railway.
Behind the house of the Woods, at the end of the narrow pathway leading from Kyleshill to Raise Street, stood the distinguished Goat House, its gable touching the lane called the Roading, close beside Janet M‘Alister’s rig. While some confusion has arisen as to both claimants for the honourable identity, the memory of those who lived there and the letters and figures on the door-lintel " D M B" 1700, sufficiently indicate the precedence of the house nearer the school. It stood exactly at the point where the lane to the school joined the continuation of the Goat Lane, after it had come across the railway. Strange were the stories told of the Goat House in days gone by when it was a model lodging-house and the meeting-place of "the Jolly Beggars" of Saltcoats (as M‘Killop sings) :
" Peighbourhood, is scarcely traceable.
To the right, going from Raise Street, was the Barn, a single-storey structure which had seen better days, and beside which the youths played rounders and ninepins. Macgregor’s Park, at the head, has become built out of sight; and many a "boy," grown grey, sees in his waking dreams the old ashen tree known as the "Raw Ree " tree, around which there had been thrown a glamour that has long since lost its spell.
It is still a picture upon which to dream, that long sweep from the top of Raise Road to the far-off Quay-end, best viewed at twilight under the sheen of the stars. It. needs little imagination to re-people the quaint old homes with their irregular outlines and old-fashioned stairs, some cork-screwing upwards through gloomy passages, others spreading their inviting width in a style of aggressive gentility. The glare of the oil lamps has gone, but in the dark of night the modern lights still seem to peep out of a very far distant past . The mysteries of the Jacquard are still more mysterious to a present generation, which regards the loom as an antiquarian relic, and which has never known the shape of a shuttle nor heard its clattering dance along the "Race Road." The very sound of the treadles is a hushed melody, gone like the forgotten lilt of an old song with the sad human under-harmonies to which it was indissolubly wedded :
The weary wab is long since spun, The twister’s stretched his warp and woof; The carriers’ cairts nae langer run, The hearth is cauld ‘neath the auld turf roof. The beaming lamp in the loft is shaded, The weaver’s voice on the plain stane’s still ; The flooers on the muslin work have faded, And silence reigns on the ancient hill. The loom’s click clack, with its old refrain, Is a melody we’ll ne’er hear again : " Three threids an’ a thrum, Three threids an’ a thrum ;The auld cat sings i’ the ingle neuk Three threids an’ a thrum."
How the Town’s Charter came through the Earl of Eglinton. Leaders of Public Life: Saltcoats’ Distinguished Roll of Honour.
The associations of Saltcoats with the Eglinton family - who have owned its broad acres from the centre of the town to the shores of Ardrossan - lie deeper than concerns mere tenure. Let us not forget that it was through the friendship of the first Earl with His Sovereign Majesty, James the Fifth, that Saltcoats secured its royal title as a burgh of barony. The Baronial Charter is addressed by the King to "our Very Reverend Father and Pope and beloved cousin, Gavin, Archbishop of Glasgow." It is dated at Edinburgh, 1st February, 1528, and immediately before subscription runs : " To you we command our Charter under our Great Seal in form of a goat," recalling a quaint symbol of Royal command. The said " Gavin " (Gavin Dunbar) through whom the inestimable privilege thus came to be transferred (one of the family of Cumnock), had, as Prior of Whithorn, been the tutor of the young King. From the days of Kilwinning Abbey to the time of the tutors of " Ardrossan Old Kirk " Saltcoats has maintained an educational prestige which - whether due to the influence of Christian monk or pagan poet-nothing can dim.
The days of primitive educational systems are well recalled in the number of its little private schools and school-mistresses of such a type as Mrs Hamilton, who wore a high-crowned cap with a black silk handkerchief tied like a band round her head. She sat in the bow of her attic beside her spinning wheel, her pupils climbing by the aid of a rope-rail the steep wooden stair that led to her seat of learning. At other more public schools the pennies were collected in a wee box which went round the first thing in the morning. When the master’s head was turned the youths would drop in a button instead of a penny; and some came late to escape the collection and so preserve the nimble penny for " pardies." The stately Academy, equidistant between Ardrossan and Saltcoats, although bearing the name of the former town, had its genesis in Saltcoats, being really the development of the Free Church Academy, the teacher of which, Mr Charles Duguid, M.A., and 238 pupils were transported to its elegant enclosure on the other side of the Stanley Burn, on 2nd October, 1882. The excellent public school at Jack’s Road (side by side with the new Parish Church of the town) was opened in August, 1876, and, under the guidance of Mr Wilson, has more than fulfilled the promise contained in his well-expressed deliverance at its opening on that far away summer thirty-three years ago.
In Church life Saltcoats has been the most active centre in the West. We have long since lost the vision of grand dames and ladies of less elderly degree in their grey cloaks and mutches, or the black silk shawls of many generations’ wear, leading by the hand boys and girls carrying little stools upon which to settle during the sermon. Well has it been said that the " Auld Kirk has a list o’. heroes that might outrival the great ones in the. eleverath chapter o’ Hebrews.‘, The figure of Rab Dow valiantly protecting the last of the witches from being soused in the Stanley Burn is in contrast with the sorcery hunting shortly before his day, and the treatment meted out to Margaret Couper and Kate Montgomerie, who, in 1650, were apprehended, tried, and put to death for alleged intercourse with the devil. They were convicted on " common bruit evidence." " Plain speiking," says an elder of to-day, "requires to be a little mair sand-paper’t than it used to be." There was a minister of Saltcoats so troubled with the antagonism of a committee of arrogant members-" they were seven "-that he took his revenge by preaching on the seven devils. "Talk about devils," he said with ever increasing indignation at this unhappy septenate, "there are seven devils I would like to see cast out of this congregation." We have ceased to hear the sounds of Gaelic Psalmody breathed from the stentorian throats of red-capped fishermen on peaceful Sunday evenings, the same throats on week-days bolting eggs and herrings without bread. Herring were cheap then-" ninepence the lang hundert."
Police life in the old town has gone forward with a remarkable bound, presenting, in its stately bureaucratic headquarters, a striking contrast to the days when the single " bobby " was known as "hunt the beggars," and when the unruly were I driven across the border to the solemn tuck of drum. Most of the real old street characters have departed, leaving behind some " bauchled " female of the back courts, bare of limb, I and looking like an animated scarecrow, to disclose the picturesque identities with a quainter age. There are only a few memories that can recall Tam Spence, who carried provisions in his hat; " Deaf Tom," who, thirty years ago, wandered through the streets, the recipient of unexpected egg-splashes ; John Wood, better known as " Red Hot; " Rab Divine (Rab " Divans ; ") Francis Kennedy, styled " Guiley Gooley," whose pet aversion to the Pontiff was manifested in a whirlwind of popular anathemas ; Peter Hughes, to whom the lads intoned a dainty anthem, beginning
" Oh how they sweetly sing Silly is oar Peter."
Then there were Robin Jack, otherwise " Smootie," " Cockle Jock," and a weaver, called "Scud," into whose den boys Jock," and a weaver, called would push one another with such dire results as the nick-I name quite suggests; for many a one felt upon his head the avenging violence of a heavy " wab " or the stinging smart of a well-directed shuttle. Nor is it possible to forget Bob M‘Laren, the bellman and beadle of the Free Church. " Johnnie," the bellman of our own day, well sustains the Burgh’s reputation in town-criers. In what chronicle shall we find Hughie Gilmour, who fiddled at the shipyard dances in the beginning of last century ; how many will remember M‘Nab, the baron officer, who, with his big staff, haunted the public greens ; or Peter Linch and Willie Ferguson of later days, whose occupation as thatchers has all but departed.
The social and recreative interests of the town deserve more exhaustive treatment than is possible within the covers of this volume. Music has always been a strong point of the Burghers. And let us yield the honour due to the composer of the tune " Saltcoats," of which no man was so proud as Poe, the precentor in the old Burgher Church. The musical productiveness was not all confined to the psalter. Many a hearty " loup " was indulged in to the tune of "The Lads of Saltcoats," a famous country dance which appeared in an old dance-book as far back as 1760, and which, it is said, had a broader fame in Ayrshire than even enthusiasts have troubled to assert.
Then there is the still existent Choral Union, the embodiment of the local genius of song. The first to introduce the sol-fa notation into the town was William M‘Innes, leader of psalmody in the East U. P. Church. The musical efforts of the Saltcoats Glee Club and Turner’s Psalmody Improvement Class of 1856 are worthy of record. A joiner in the town has no less than four of his family in the Union; two sons, two daughters, one for each of the four parts-a unique record.
The Saltcoats Solomon Lodge of Free Gardeners, instituted 4th January, 1828, is the oldest of the town’s Friendly institutions. It was opened in "William King’s Hall," its first Grand Master being James Willock. ’ Old John Barclay’s Smiddy was afterwards bought and repaired for a meeting-place. The largest and wealthiest society in the district is the Crook and Plaid Lodge of Shepherds, which has also a long career. Until 10th October, 1870, the Good Templars met in an old hall in Green Street. On that date they marched to the old Secession Church with, at their head, an ardent convert who had solemnly declared his intention to sign the pledge " as sure as ma shakin’ haun is able to start ma name and suppose it rain whiskey." The Saltcoats Burns Club, instituted in 1824, which celebrated the great Centenary in the Town Hall, with Tom Miller in the chair, is practically continued,
The careers of the literary coteries have shown the saving merit of variation. There was a reading room in the Town Hall in the early days of Saltcoats prosperity. An attempt to resuscitate it about the end of 1858 led to the Public Library of 1860, which was sold eight years later to the Trustees of the Free Congregational Library. In May, 1859, the young Trades lads formed a kind of Artisans’ Association, which afterwards dropped away.
The Literary Society has had a remarkable career, and has done much to influence and develop the mind of young Saltcoats. The Rev. Alexander Banks was present at its institution early in last century. He gives the credit of foundation to Captain Wilson, and after him, to James M‘Kie, (" Book Jamie.") It is still guided with thorough enthusiasm. James M‘Kie was publisher of the " Ayrshire Wreath " in 1843, and annually for three years subsequently. In 1867 he published a remarkably accurate fac-simile reprint of the famous Kilmarnock edition of Burns.
Saltcoats has had its share of literary enshrinement and association, the picturesque presentment of the " Daughter of Heth" having fallen upon the vision of the novelist, William Black, during his stay at the Saracen’s Head. Long afterwards the opportunity of comparing the identities of scene and character must have given pleasure to Black’s schoolmaster, Buchan, in his quiet retreat near the " Whaup’s Shelter " at Castleweerock. Although Black’s " Coquette " is not recognisable in the ranks of real life, Archie Bryce, the son of the Rev. Mr Bryce of the Old Church, was the undoubted prototype of the " Whaup." The Whaup’s Nest was, of course, the old Saltpans.
The town claims another literary interest in connection with " Jeems Kaye," the humorist, whose name, outside his casquet of unrivalled and spacious humour, was Archie M‘Millan, agent ; and he lived for a number of years in Eglinton Street and Montgomerie Crescent.
William Burns, writer, a son of the Chemist, founded the "Glasgow St. Andrew’s Society," and was author of various works, including the "History of the Scottish War of Independence." Lord Shand was a step-son.
William Brown Smith, bookseller and news-agent, author of ‘*Life Scenes and other Poems," Saltcoats, wrote with such taste and feeling as are shown in "The Auld North Pans : Reverie on Saltcoats Quay-End," and after his death there was published "The World, Without and Within," with a preface by A. W. Buchan.
Andrew J. Symington was a writer’ of entertaining and reflective work.
Malcolm Kerr, poet and postman, the only rural officer of the district, whose quaint uniform and hat bearing the letters "G. P. 0." are well remembered, left behind him a book of poesy.
John Welsh, Scotland’s oldest postman, retired laden with honours on 28th November after a service in letters of forty-seven years.
Matthew Bell, carrier between Saltcoats and Kilbride in the Fifties, has a remembered name.
John Stewart, latterly of the Glasgow Chonicle, wrote for the papers in the early Twenties, and so vigorously that Dr. Hamilton of Grange had him arrested and taken in a cart to the Jail at Ayr. This was the Doctor who dressed the Earl of Eglinton’s wounds when he was shot by the poacher.
Hamilton Street retains the memory of, who died there in 1868, and who, through his mother, was descended from an old Ayrshire family - the Cunninghames of Monkredding.
William Holmes, who emigrated to America in 1830, during office as Postmaster, wrote poetry, and was thus literally "a man of letters."
A curiosity of local literature was the writing of the Bible in three manuscript volumes, accomplished by a boy, Robert Miller, in 1873.
Alexander Watt, now of Leeds, a generous contributor to the local press, wrote, two years ago, a book of character sketches and reflections. He was previously the author of a Guide to Saltcoats, which contained an account of Ardrossan and Stevenston.
Mention must also be made of James Smith of Mission Coast Home renown, who in conjunction with Mr Bryden, issued a pamphlet " Napoleonia ; " also a volume under the title of " The Sealed Book ; " and of the late James Campbell, whose loyal interest in the town and its past took the form of more than one literary opuscule, and many piquant contributions to the press.
The name of the late Town Clerk, as a leader of public thought and progressive movement, will be for all time a household world. Dr. Kinnier’s portrait, in the Council Room, recalls his generous disposition to the community ; and James Fullerton, banker in that little banking world of the Sixties which he once said a carpet bag might have contained, is a remembered name.
In the art world Saltcoats can proudly point to the Academician, John Lavery, as having spent his early days in the town. It is said that he received his first art lesson in the shop of Mr Campbell, Countess Street. Saltcoats claims ) Houston, a rising genius of the pencil. It is in the ranks of maritime life, however, that the town has been able to place its distinguished sons highest. In 1877 five of the biggest shipsafloat were under the command of Captains from the Raise Road, which reminds us that the Smiths of the Smith Line hailed from " Weaverland," although Hamilton Street claims. the Allans of the Allan Line. Captain Sandy Allan, the progenitor of the famous family, went down to Saltcoats to learn the trade of a ship carpenter. He sailed as mate with the late Captain John Wilson, the bookseller in Dockhead Street. He became master of several first-class ships, and married one of the Crawfords who occupied a little cottage in Castleweerock. The brig "Jean" was named after his wife. The late James Allan, his eldest son, and Bryce Allan, a younger son, took up the North American trade. James, the eldest, and Alexander, the youngest, settled down in Glasgow as shipowners. Hugh, along with Andrew, went into business as merchants in Montreal, and ranked amongst the richest in Canada. The old man stood out strongly against the introduction of steam. His sons respected their father’s views : it was only after his death that steam came into the Allan Line.
The last links with the days when the boats carried fish and cattle to Ireland, and brought home corn and butter and kegs of "potheen, " have, long been severed ; and the blue stones of Newry and the red boulders of Dublin lie scattered over the deserted strand where the merry crews left them as abandoned ballast long years ago. Yet the echoes of a romantic past come with the boisterous gusts that sweep over the languorous quay and through the crooked lanes and alleys that abut thereon. Children lie dreaming at night over the weird stories bequeathed to them by grave elders, and see the ghostly visions of shipwrecks with sailors clinging to the shrouds and dropping into the angry sea.
They read the story of that older Saltcoats in the faces and figures of many who still walk through its antique little streets, giving visible continuity to the stirring traditions that are associated with their families and their names. The Saltcoats of to-day - without its ancient port, and bereft of its weavers-lives mostly for the thousands who swoop down upon it in the summer to be roused by the salty flavour of its breezes, and to bathe in its glorious expanse of water. It lives also for the city magnate, for whom it has built stately abiding places wherein he buries his commercial worries, and escapes from the fogs of Sauchiehall Street.
There is the time when the long stretch of the Parade is crowded with promenaders, and the dulcet accent of the Briggate falls upon the ear; when children disport in the sunshine playing with waves and sand, their laughter as inspiring as the music of wood linnets, the smoke of distant Ardrossan curling into air, and the horn of an inbound steamer piping its welcome lay. There is a time in winter when the grey surf beats against a deserted Esplanade, when the rocks are spangled to harmonise with the snowy crest of distant Goatfell, and the little town lies in a silver dream. At such a time there is a rapture and fascination in viewing Saltcoats from the Pier end under the witchery of evening : lights twinkle around the Bay ; and, as in a dissolving view, the new town fades and the old town creeps back into the prospect as plainly as the magic of memory can restore and the power of fond illusion picture it.
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arboilt bacchanalian wretches, Wi’ haggart looks an’ tatter't breeches Held hard and fast in Clootie’s clutches."
These were the mendicants and prowlers who subsisted on the proceeds of their gatherings, filling their sacks with oat-meal, and enabling the poor to fill their larder at a cheap rate. Many a merry night was spent under its old roof. Latterly it was used as a house and room and byre all succeeding each other. The days of the pedlars and "pedlars’ meal" came to be forgotten, and the house for a time fell upon better days. One resident speaks in tones of affectionate remembrance of the old tree upon which the bairns slung their swing, their feet being able to touch the opposing gable of the house of the Woods. That tree still stands in the midst of its abandonment, and the tough old gable of the Goat House is a cairn of stones behind an advertising hoarding stretched along the last remnant of the Goat Lane.
The site of the present Kyleshill School was a field until 1884. Within its low-lying expanse had rested the historic Bog Cottages, the last of which - a mere little toy of a dwelling, near what is the eastern gate of the school - was occupied long since by Frank Thomson, a vendor of delectable candy, which sweetened the mouths of a past generation. Further back had lain the Flush and moorland rigs, often overrun with water in such a way as to form a lake. Dwellers by Kyleshill came to draw water from " the lake " in preference to pursuing the long descent to the town. Each of the principal dwellers in the town had there as much of the Flush rigs as would grow three pecks of lint seed. The lint shaws were gathered there for many a day, and used by the early village dames in the industrious distaff. An elderly lady describes them as having something like the appearance of " wheat shells." Before the very old school on the crown of Kyleshill was built, the rocky piece of waste ground bore so much of the appearance of more ancient days, and protruded its jagged brow with such impressive prominence that children spoke of the Kyleshill Rock in hushed and awe-stricken tones. There was a great gloomy cavity which was said to "gang through to the ither side o’ the Toonhead, and naebody o’ this side o’ time had been able to fathom it." It was, in fact, the "forbidden cave " of Saltcoats youth, and none were so daring as to venture more than a foot or two within and fill the cavernous depths with brain-splitting shrieks. The Slaughter Houses sit upon the old house and steadings possessed by Skipper Rob Brown in 1718, and were acquired by the Commissioners in 1897.
From the Crown of Kyleshill to Parked. Volunteer Days. The Mansion of Seabank.
In the Seventeen-Twenties there were no houses between Kyleshill and the Harbour. Pits predominated. On the hill lay banked-up mounds of dross for the salt furnaces. Water was carried from the Stanley Burn through Seabank grounds for the operations of the Kyleshill Machine Pit, Up and down the hill the wives and daughters of. the miners carried the black loads.
" Sair back and sair banes ; Trudgin’ mony a mile ;
Sad is the darg o’ women folks On the weary Hill o’ Kyle."
Everything was primitive. Even the sea stones in front of the vanished Sun Inn went to furnish the furnaces of the Chemical Works. Canal Street abounds in landmarks: Trodden’s Gates, the old Station House, the ruined engine-house (the second in Scotland), Canal Bank House and grounds, the grounds of the Archery Club, founded in 1849, Limekilns and Rockvale, the venerable Brewery, and the " Skipper’s Acre," enclosed within the gardens on the north side. There is hardly a trace of the Canal, finished and navigated on 19th September, 1772, the first upon which - commercial transports floated in Scotland. It came as far as Parkend Cottages, where there was an extensive coal-rea, kept by " Sawners Gemmill," of Stevenston. Prominent in the work of drawing the coal to the harbour for shipment were the late Captain Barclay and John Kelso. William Andrew was about the last to ship coal from the harbour.
The Ropework of later days was in the hands of the M‘Donnells in 1842 ; and it had then a division for sails and riggings. The old Ropework House is still to the fore. It was the scene of a disastrous fire on 20th April, 1864.
Rockvale Cottage reminds us that there died there in 1870 Elizabeth Webber, wife of Adam Thomson, a Crimean veteran. She had accompanied her husband through long marches in India, and was one of the few surviving persons present at Waterloo.
The East Links was the parade ground of the Volunteering days. The first meeting was held in the Saracen’s Hall on 21st February, 1860; but from 1859 drilling had been going on in the hall under Sergeant Young. The students of the " goose step " entered with much gravity upon their tasks, and the arrival in the town of eighty-five Enfield rifles was hailed with as much jubilation as if the French were waiting in the Bay to receive the contents of their much-fondled barrels. The selection of a light grey uniform was itself a subject of excitement, and the men chosen to lead the Volunteer ranks were of noble appearance. They were Ensign James Anderson, Tanner; Lieutenant James Baird, Manager at Ardeer; and Captain Robert King Barbour, whose fine build and abbreviated name, " King Barbour," led to a singular conclusion on the part of young Saltcoats that he must indeed be a king. The Rev. D. Ronald acted as Chaplain, and Dr. M‘Culloch as Assistant Surgeon ; John Bryan, Alex. Gumming, Charles Smith, and David M‘Nair being full Corporals; with James Baillie and R. S. Kinnier as Lance-Corporals. The Sergeants-drawn from the ranks of prominent tradesmen-were Robert Young, Hugh M‘Donnell, Jr., Hugh Stirling, and Robert Spence, with John Lockhart in the colours. The last-named, afterwards Ensign, made the highest score of the National match of 1870. The sounds of Andrew Leckie’s and Archie Workman’s bugles broke the stillness of the neighbourhood in their nightly practices. The first Instructor was Sergeant O’Brien, and his successor Sergeant Tolmie. There was a Cavalry Corps, the eldest son of every man on Lord Eglinton’s estate considering himself bound to provide a horse and accoutrements. Quite a brave show was presented when the drills took place on South Beach sands, opposite the Pavilion. The Drill Hall of to-day is the Relief Church that was. It stands close up to the gate of Parkend House.
Parkend House rests upon the old Smelting House of the Cuninghames. The grounds enclose the " Rock Park " the " Beatelha’," the Beer Yard (slightly westward), parts of the Townhead given by the Earl of Eglinton to Thomas Campbell of Killyleoch, Provost of Irvine; " the Storehouse," between the town and the house of Seabank, lying to the east of "the road leading to Beatelhall." To the north lie the lower dykes of the " Beatelhall" yard ; eastwards the enclosures of Seabank. On a plot in front of Parkend House stood the old counting house of the Stevenston Colliery Company, removed in 1884. A barn at the back of the ground is all that is left of the historic " Beatelhall."
The Relief Church of 1782 was the scene of the "violent settlements " when the clerical escorts were molested by the mobs. On one of these occasions a little fat clergyman, having tripped and fallen in the rear, was caught by some women and dragged by the coat-tails through the mud. The Rev. Mr Duncan was going home one’ evening past the Shopends when a street loafer said to his companion,
"What will ye gie me to rin aff wi’ the minister’s wee wife?"
and, picking her up, he ran along Dockhead Street with the frightened little lady struggling in his giant oxters. A yard, which lay near the kirk, gives back a memory of Saltcoats’ famous wigmaker, Nathaniel Hodge. Even in his day the doctors and the ministers and the little aristocracy affected " poudre." Sometimes the ringlets of grand dames, that would have shown piebald by the encroachments of age, were made a uniform grey by Nathaniel’s unrivalled art. "The en’ o’ a candle was gey guid dressin’," says an octogenarian, who saw at least some of the remnants of a retreating vogue. "There wis nak bear’s grease till Prince Albert’s day, and then a’body ‘oiled their locks ’ to match the King’s ; an’ at the time o’ the Eglinton Tournament the ‘big wigs’ o’ Saltcoats left wee splatches o’ pooder wherever they went." John Dunlop, who lived near Kyleshill (father of Mr Dunlop, Ardrossan), drove many to the famous Eglinton Tournament, from which great event everything afterwards dated.
Seabank House, which was built by the enterprising Mr Cuninghame in 1708, has an interest all its own as it sits enclosed in the demesne that slopes down towards the Stevenston Road. How gracefully has it been pictured by Dr. Landsborough- " Sheltered sweet and cheerful, with its green fields and woody braes, martello-tower and mounted battery." To wander round that ancient bastion, with its guns pointing to command the road to the town, is to walk again in the fairyland of history. Some of the guns bear the royal mark of " Jacobus Rex"’ suggesting that they are of a period coeval with the days of the earliest Stuarts.
The Romance of the Raise Road and its Picturesque Identities.
the days when the turnpike road of advancement lay far from the old town, and
scarcely a whisper from the outer world broke the stillness of its old-fashioned
dingy streets, there came to Saltcoats a poor weaver man carrying his loom and
gear. He – so the legend runs –
ascended the then new street, which the Earl had made through Grisel How’s
ground. What with fatigue and long
travel, his whole gear fell and smashed. Looking
ruefully at the result of the disaster, he explained, “Ma guidness, I’ve
broken the race road”, for, you must understand, the “race road” is the
long wooden trough or cradle through which the shuttle flies.
And the poor weaver started his trade, and initiated that wonderful
colony of loom labour that became Saltcoats’ Weaverland.
And the name of the colony became the
"Race Road”, although a more literal explanation is given by its
gradual incline, corresponding to its more modern designation – the Raise
Road. For many a day there stood at
the foot, on the right hand beyond the railway, an odd looking structure with
steps projecting on the street line in such a way as to compel a climb up and a
climb down. This was known as
“Hendry’s Steps”, taking the name from the old seafaring worthy who
owned the property. Now, it
occupied the site of the historic Bog House.
Only a small piece of the ground remains, for the new street, Glencairn
Street, was broken through it by the railway;
and a fence hems in the drowsy enclosure.
Through this, the thoughtful to-day peer curiously, wondering at that
mass of neglected vegetation, with an old sundial giving back a sense of its
one-time country charm and restfulness.
were two wells in Raise
Street, one at the head the other at the foot opposite
the Steeple, the latter of old called “Cunningham’s Well” because
Cunningham, the carrier’s house sat there, beside the Burgher
Latterly it was the Steeple Well.
to the westward, received its poetic name when it came to the Jacks of
Chapelhill. When the Glebe was
still unbuilt on, the land went backwards with occasional rises forming
“terraced” ground – the last surviving vestiges of the monastic gardens.
The locality bears the memory of James Mitchell, of Dykes.
“Gentle” Dykes, now Laigh Dykes, was its name when identified with
Millar a figure of old Raise Street, familiar to the past generation as he took
his rounds in his suit of spotless black. He
was punctilious in dress, and the nocturnal bang of his knocker never disturbed
huge drums of the Gas Works remind us that the first buildings were erected and
the main pipes laid during the summer and autumn of 1836.
Andrew Aitken was the first gas manager.
The watchful supervision and skill of Mr John Napier Myers have done much
to maintain the later prestige of the Corporation.
The more modern part of the Gas Works was acquired on 25th February 1865. A copy of the rules and regulations of the Saltcoats Gas
Light Company, printed at Irvine, bears that these were adopted on February 26
back way, leading past the Anti-Burgher Meeting house to Meikleyett, remained
free from the intrusion of the builder until 1824.
It was called Raise Lane or the Meikleyett.
Beyond was a continuous hedge, leading to the Raise park yards, now
turned into Wellpark Road.
uniting of Springvale and the Raise Street in 1883 is memorialised sufficiently
in the name of the little cross street, “Union” Street.
Now buried in the enclosures of the Gas Works, and leaving not a trace
behind, was the Anti-Burgher’s house of prayer – “the Pea Doo Kirk” –
a quaint little edifice, which derived its name from a dove with outstretched
wings on a sounding board above the pulpit.
corner of Springvale encloses the Catholic Seminary, opened in October
described in a contemporary record as a model of medieval domestic architecture.
It was produced to the designs of Mr Ingram, Kilmarnock. The body of later days were fortunate in the erection of a
fine hall, called the “League of the Cross” Hall.
the ancient well-meadow, from which Wellpark derived its name, was a curious
draw well, the only one in the town which could keep the leeches alive, and the
waters of which were therefore much sought for by the local apothecaries.
step of the Raise Street is full of hallowed memories.
The landmarks here need little resurrection, and the informed vision can
trace the vanished figures all the way up.
On the right, at the foot, “Strange’s Land”, “Granny Orr’s”
and “Hendry’s Steps” have departed, but the rest tell the plain story of
the corner of Factory Lane is still the house where Ronald the cleric lodged,
below it the habitation of Hugh Young of psalmody fame, and the now unroofed
cottage (with a thatch at the rear) in front of which the weavers held their
“Parliament of the Plain-Stones”. On
the left hand, beginning at the foot is the old Western Bank, built by Mr
Gilfillan, to which the Royal removed on 4th January 1858, and
reminiscent of King Barbour, whose stately figure gave the “callants” so
striking an impression of his sovereignty.
Past a wee house which clung to the Bank came the house of the Ritchies,
famous in the shipping and curing industries;
next the Armours, equally noted in the biographical records of old
Saltcoats, then the house of Millers. In
one of the two unroofed houses, at the corner of Union Street, was the dwelling
place of Danny Kerr. Further on was
the house of the McKillops, with the hall “through the back”, the centre of
social interest in the town’s better days.
Davie Howies beaming room “the Weavers House o’Commons”, has its
windows much the same as they were in the older life.
The house of Tom Miller lies above it, beside the house of
Laird Stirrat. Half-way up Raise Street stood the house of Robert
staunch Anti-Burgher in Ronald’s time.
Ronald’s lodging was the little Raise Street school;
beyond it, the house of Mrs Stevenson of Coalhill, second last at the
top, still approached by outside stairs, the place of Robert Brown who brought
the letters from Kilmarnock to Saltcoats in his “Shandrum Dan”.
Latterly it was the house of Colin McGregor, who was so “Heelant”
that when exhorted by the Sheriff to speak in plain English, “Ach ach”, he
guttered, remonstratively, “sure an’ deet me English is all dune!”
But for the all-compelling restrictions upon space, what stories one
could tell of Nel Downie, Shoemaker; what
glowing legends and comicalities concerning the weaving shops of Ephraim
and Tom Sharp; the
“sixteen-loom” shop of Jamie Gemmell and Willie Langlands;
the home of the one-time industrious gardener and weaver, Willie
and the two-storey thatch and weaver’s shop which was Archie Burns;
of the weaving place of Hugh Young (whose son became headmaster of the
State School at Camperdown, Australia); of
the house where lived, until his death in 1863 Jack
Ardrossan, the famous beadle
of the old Church; of Willie
Kane’s at the head of the street; of
tailor Bennett, the Liberal of the Raise Road, who took part in the Radical
agitation of 1820; of John
weaver who lived in the sixties and had served on board the Bellerophon when
Napoleon I surrendered after Waterloo, and who often described Napoleon as a
“wee clean-shaven priestly-lookin body wi’ a piercin’ eye”.
Stories also are plentiful of Robert Irvine, the silk weaver, of John
Hamilton, maker of heddles, and of Robert Barclay who went to superintend
kiln department of the Magnesia Work, where he served for over a quarter of a
century. He was a great draughts
player, and in 1849 was Champion of Scotland. Daniel Kerr took a prominent part
in the local agitation over the Reform Bill.
In music he was a tower of strength, only equalled by Hugh
“prince of precentors”, Dauny was of the real old Raise Street stock and
took part in all the public concerts of the Fifties.
He was so ardent a disciple of Orpheus that after a day’s hard work, he
once walked to Kilmarnock to hear Madame Malibran.
He was precentor of the Burgher Kirk, and was credited as the composer of
“Saltcoats” and “Inkerman” two tunes that have escaped from the psalter.
A later psalm tune, named “Saltcoats” was composed by Mr Gillon,
precentor of the Landsborough United Free Church, and the composer was greatly
surprised to find that a tune of that name had had a venerable priority.
Raise Road worthy was Alexander Grimwood, father of the Postmaster and Inspector
of Poor, who was a leading member of the Raise Street “Political Trade
Parliament”. In the sixties
Alexander Armour and Henry Barclay, joiners, were active leaders of Raise Road
is it to give due expression to the fascination of the old Tan Yard, even in its
state of pitiful dejection, with nothing left of its handlers and spenders, its
lime-pits and water-holes, steam engine and bark mill, lime stores, drying
sheds, currying shops, and offices – all gone into the past, leaving only the
shells of the old houses to tell its story.
How often will the ponderer on the past call up the memory of that old
engine which, before the days of steam, was moved by the docile “Denty” –
truly a “one-horse” power. There existed in the midst of the tanner, unsullied by its
surroundings, two very old draw-wells, and from a well in the middle there
gushed forth a fountain of the purest water.
Additional water was taken in by drain pipes from the “Hedges”.
Situated about the centre of the street, on the left hand coming from the
town, the industries were carried on from 1794 or so till 1894 – a full
centenary. A venerable man
o’hides tells us that in early days it took eighteen months to tan the leather
that did credit alike to the beast whose skin it was;
to the tanner who splashed the skin; to the son of St Crispin who wrought the leather into sturdy boots and
shoes; and to the weavers and their
prancing boys, winsome girls, or older women who made the feet coverings last
the proper time. The last craft of
any size that came into Saltcoats harbour was a sloop with barks for the
Anderson, whose land
bordered Lady Montgomerie’s at the end of the eighteenth century was the
forbear of the tanners – Robert and Thomas, the first the tanner proper, and
the second the conductor of the curry. Both
were staunch Anti-Burghers.
The Weavers in the Days of Waterloo. "The Parliament of the Plain-Stones."
Much of the interest of old " Weaverland " concerns the individuality of Tom Miller, wright, who, in the Forties, was the life and soul of the Saltcoats Curling Club and other of its gay institutions. When, in 1781-82, his father came from West Kilbride and feued the ground upon which the old joinery was built in 1796, the Raise Road still retained the fragrance of the old-world uplands and hedge-rows through which the Earl of Eglinton had driven it. An old Bible, bearing the name of " Margaret Boyd," spouse of the first Tom Miller, records the birth of a second " Tom " on May 31st, 1788; and this is the famous leader of old Saltcoats society.
The old gardens near the joinery are still abounding in memories of the " Tam Montgomery " apple and the " bitter sweet," and the old fruit-giver, the "crackit" tree, which bore its acrid dainties with a crack in them that seemed as natural an inheritance as the original sin that pertained to the apple of Eden. Kindly memories have drawn impressions of the spare figure and weather-beaten countenance of the industrious wright, whose book possessions were simply invaluable. They occupy an entire room, filling tier upon old tier, and embrace the first fruits of the masters. The oldest is dated 1646, a book of science or philosophy, 263 years old ! The ancient joinery, where Tom Miller made the celebrated " peeries " for childhood’s delectation - with its deep old walls round which the pear trees clung-stands yet to the fore. The peerie, with the metal head and tip, was like no other rotary toy ever made. Its musical hum produced an ecstasy in the hearts of its owners which nothing can to-day supply.
There lies near the joinery a grand old garden which a one-time Countess of Eglinton drove up in her carriage to inspect. More than one Countess has come and gone since the tuber roses bloomed within this still unfaded adornment of the Raise Road quarter. After the death of " T. M." in 1863 (or 1864) the joinery was carried on by his son, Boyd Miller, a man of great enterprise, and is now continued by his grandson and namesake, completing an industrial existence in four successive generations, covering 128 years.
Quite a web of historic interest can be woven around Weaverland in association with the Chartist movement in which James M’Neill, a shoemaker, took a chief part, and during the turmoil of which two Chartist leaders, Williams and Jones, paid Saltcoats a visit. , The rousing eloquence of the old journalism was meat and drink to those sturdy politicians. A leader-writer’s diatribe was better than a diet. Both were very precious. * The men clubbed for the newspaper which they read at meal hours on the plain stones, or at night under the oil lamp of the beaming room.
Within the shadow of the " Raise Street House of Commons " has been located the scene of the nocturnal meetings of the old Radicals. There are many tales of the intrepid John Campbell who conducted the solemn swearing in of the men under dim candle light. One night, with dramatic suddenness, the door was burst open ; candles were extinguished, and Campbell rammed the paper containing the oath into his mouth. He was charged with treason and arrested. Fearing outbreak, the authorities took him from Glasgow to Edinburgh Castle where he was visited by Richmond, the spy, and tempted with bank notes to betray his fellows - an old and familiar method of Governmental inquisition. Messages from outside reached him through the medium of loaves and tobacco. On the day of his trial his wife stepped into Court, having walked all the way from Saltcoats. No wonder that the Rev. Ellis said of Campbell, he was "a little of David ; a big lot o’ Paul." Ellis himself was the most familiar figure of the Raise Road as he bustled about with his "pastoral staff." He listened to every sympathetic tale, but had an abhorrence of scandal or gossip. A talkative female was usually brought up with the sharp interruption, "Janet! pirns ! pirns! dinna ye hear the weavers callin’ ? " Ellis was no mere preacher, he was "a doer also;" and during the distress handled his spade with such energy that it broke, to the great amusement of the "out of works."
At the moment when the news of the victory of Waterloo rang upon the ears of the people of Saltcoats, the weavers were in a state of commotion over the prevailing distress. Their mingled lamentation and joy took the form of a procession through the town with flags and shawls borrowed from wives and maidens. Not a rag which could cause a flutter was refused, the girls gallantly stripping their bonnets to make ribbons. Ellis - contributed to the demonstration by displaying on the window of his dwelling-place an illustration of Buonaparte suspended on a gallows. The town drummer, Danny Geachy, with ribbons decking his quaint head-gear and streaming from his drum, beat the tocsin with great manifestation of dignity, and at each little halting-place gave utterance, with oratorical pomposity, to the sentiment of the moment. At the head of the Raise Street bonfires crackled ominously ; and for three whole days Weaverland could not have told which was the most soul-stirring of their emotions, the sounds of victory or the blank despair of their hungered families.
Similar effects of wild jubilation were manifested on the fall of the Wellington Ministry in 1829. Between the second and third readings of the Reform Bill the weavers, to the number of 12OO, made a great and imposing procession. One of their number drew up an address to be presented to the King. The life of the weaver was a " hand to mouth " struggle. Before the days of the railway, delay meant starvation ; and often after a heavy snow, the weavers had to go with shovels to dig out the carrier’s cart while the men were waiting for money and webs. In our time only professional men wear " lum " hats daily. Fifty years ago the weaver wore it regularly. The daily " tile " would of course be the one that had done duty for Sundays and funerals, When it got shabby (after seeing out several stages of fashionable decomposition), it was taken for every-day wear, and when too old for that, did duty as a pirn box.
The pride of the weaver of Saltcoats was something that no one can to-day rightly understand. He wore his "tile" if only he had occasion to go " ower the gate " or " doon the gate ;" and, wrapped in the silk plaid that was the glory of a poetic age, affected a stalking dignity which few dare challenge. Once a callant laughed at a weaver’s head-dress, and the punishment was dire. The weavers’ agent was a severe Sabbatarian. A poor woman who had got out some flowering on a Saturday hastily returned with the completed work on the Monday. " Mistress," quoth the stern agent, "you have been breaking the Sabbath, and no Sabbath-breaker will work for me. Get ye gone ! " Sometimes the weaver needed it all. The pay was poor, and he thought it no harm to work a " bit o’ geich " by stretching the warp and saving the woof. The wary agent would throw the material on the scales to see whether it was lighter than when given out. Let the reader imagine the result. When a weaver’s family blazed suddenly into the unaccustomed lustre of " new claes " there were strong suspicions that " geiching " had been prevalent. Penury made the weaver a hard bargainer, whether in things affecting life or death. More than one, with an eye on both worlds, took the direction of his funeral affairs into his own hands, and sent for the " taking under" man . "You’ll bury me," he would say, ,‘ on the fourth day, for the third’s no lucky. Mak’ a kist just the same as ye did for the last three that have been carried oot o’ this hoose, plain and substantial, and nae extra mountin’s. Try Mr A - for the hearse and coaches. His turnoots are aye respectable; and his twa black cobs ‘ill jist look as fine as Belgians." All funerals were semi-public, and the mourners attended in their braid cloth - of such delicate texture as outwore the use of numberless generations. The broad-brimmed and very tall hats presented a sufficiently mournful spectacle to satisfy the most lugubrious taste. Up to the year 1850 or thereabouts, all funerals about the Raise Street were called by a weaver (usually the one whose face could be turned into the proper " murnin’ " aspect) who went the round of the street asking the good folks to attend by word of mouth. There are extant lists of names of the privileged mourners. One such is dated June 24th 1846. The only hand-loom weaver to-day, the last survivor of the fraternity, is Willie Blair, an old "powder" man who has seen stirring times, and, at an advanced age, still plies his shuttle.
A tattered bill, announcing a high-class entertainment for 1st January, 1829, to take place in " Mrs Lamb’s large room,‘, gives us a peep into Weaverland from the recreative side four-score years ago. Where, alas ! can we locate the "large room ? " The entertainer is named as Alexander Miller, " Sauny," as he was kindly styled. How he managed to mingle poetic honey with twisting webs, which claimed every hour of his existence, seems a marvel. Yet he was the premier entertainer of his day.
Raise Street’s bouldered way had much to answer for by bringing into unjustified disrepute all those whom it compelled to develop "a slight stagger." It may have formed a useful blame-taker in the pre-teetotal days before the Burghers entered upon their glorious crusade against spirits. Saltcoats could never claim the Irish excuse of "mixing just to take the cruelty out of the water." It was well furnished with the wine of Adam. It has been called "the town of the eleven wells; " but the most cherished of these was at the head of Raise Street. Weaverland subscribed for’ it, washed it, cleaned it, wept over it, and finally painted it a lively red as a protest against its removal The voice of the-Raise Road Demosthenes who roused the weavers into patriotic devotion to the " well of their forefathers" is long since still; and the well has vanished under the unsympathetic hammer of the improvers.
The departed personality of Robert M’Killop has removed from the Raise Road that type of unconscious genius which lightened the gloom of ill-requited labour. His power of epigrammatic expression was only equalled by his peculiar sensibility to injustice. When the improvers, after the manner of "Paddy’s blanket," took the high parts of Wellpark Road to mend the foot, it had the effect of causing the doors of the one-time higher land dwellings to be, "like Mahomet’s coffin," suspended in air. Robin’s wonderment took the form of a brief protest written in indignant chalk upon the ruins. He dealt in supplies. "A step-ladder," he would say, " may no’ cairry ye sae far as ambition, but it’s aye safer to stand on." " Gie me what I want ; I’ll ply whit I: get," was his favourite maxim. " A pinch to four hundred-weight o’ a brick wall coup ower a’ arguments." A Raise Road proprietor imposed such an erection upon his neighbour who, taking advantage of a howling storm, toppled over the bricks into the offender’s yard. " It’s no the damage that’s botherin’ me," said the wall-builder ruefully to his innocent-looking neighbour next day, " but a’m winderin’ hoo a nor’-nor’- east win’ got roon’ the corner o’ your south so’-west gairden and threw these bricks into ma yaird."
Braehead House, lying snugly amongst its fruit trees and bushes, has maintained its dignified setting through all the effects of chance and change. No one of its occupants was more popular, than Matthew Brown, who presided at the meetings of protest in 1873 against the proposal to close Raise Street. The aspect of the old mansion is sufficiently expressive of its romantic interest. " Its a gran’ biggin’, " says a dweller within its shadow, "fine and spacious, and nae scrimpin’ o’ masonry. Its lum taps would build a hoose in themselves."
Through parks a former generation could pursue a right-of-way, coming out at Rocky Knowe. To-day, the route to the Loanhead Well, the scene of. plighted troths, and the rural glory of a once beautiful n